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The Peculiar Case of the Black American Islamophobe


By Guest Author

Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer-Assistant professor of Anthropology and African American Studies, Purdue University

Growing up in the diverse black communities of Brooklyn, NY, being Muslim was not really a strange thing. And to a certain extent the same could be said for the rest of the city. For example, a few years ago I attended a bombazo in the South Bronx and while there, I needed to make one of the five daily prayers. In addition to an inconspicuous place to make salat, I needed to figure out the direction of Mecca, northeast. All I asked one of the event organizers, who was not a Muslim, was: “Do you know which way is east?” To which she immediately responded, “Oh, you need to pray?” and then led me to a quiet and clean place where I could do just that. This familiarity with Islam comes from the role that various everyday and prominent Muslims, like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, have played in shaping black identity and fighting against racial inequality. And when hip hop took up Black Nationalism in the 80s and 90s, being Muslim was not only familiar but also cool. Even Ramadan, which incidentally ended
this week, had a cameo, albeit irreverent, in the hip hop track “Kick in the Door” where Biggie Smalls rhymes “quick fast, like Ramadan.”

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This is why I remain perplexed at the ascendance of African Americans who spew the rhetoric of anti-Muslim bias. Last year, there was Juan Williams’ inextricable fear of Muslim garb (whatever that is). Then there was the surprising discovery that black residents are participating in the campaign against the expansion of a local mosque in Murfreesboro, TN. And then there were the most recent and egregious comments of Herman Cain, for which, to be fair, he later apologized.

Now even in my nostalgia about the Brooklyn of my youth, I can recall some hostility toward Islam and Muslims. This came from some black Christians — for perhaps obvious theological reasons–and from certain Afrocentrists who espouse what University of Michigan Professor Sherman Jackson has termed “Black Orientalism,” the reductive ideological position in which Islam is a synonym for Arab and therefore culpable in the East African slave trade and any and all forms of Arab “imperialism.” Yet the anti-Muslim bias found in the statements of Williams and Cain is starkly different from these older hostilities. This is because today’s anti-Muslim bias has its roots in America’s history of white supremacy.

Like the anti-black racism that underpins white supremacy, anti-Muslim bias is a practice of discrimination, individual and systemic, that is fueled by a perceived threat. Black people threaten the [white] nation through their violent behavior, pathologies, and overall “bad” culture. Muslim people threaten the [yes, still white] nation through their violent behavior, pathologies, and overall “bad” culture. These similarities can be found in the private sphere: “Whites Only” signs in the Jim and Jane Crow south and “No Muslims Inside” signs in 21st century Alabama, as well as mid-century housing covenants to prevent black home ownership and current attempts to manipulate zoning ordinances to prevent the construction of mosques.

Critically, the similarities also extend in to the public sphere: practices of racial profiling that lead to parallel phenomenon of Driving While Black and Flying While Muslim (imagine if you are black and Muslim!) and the return of COINTELPRO-like tactics of surveillance and infiltration in today’s Muslim communities.

In light of these and other parallels, how do some African-Americans come to jump on the anti-Muslim bias bandwagon? There are likely many answers to that question. One that I would like to suggest is that the bandwagon can be alluring to a community that is usually made to walk. Meaning that, some black people, consciously or subconsciously, take on anti-Muslim attitudes as a means to an end — to access the privileges of being a full-fledged American that have been so long denied blacks in this country. Of course, this route toward full citizenship is peculiar when juxtaposed against reports like the recent one on the widening of the racial wealth gap; reports, which remind us that, on the whole, whites, and non-whites are living in very different Americas. And unfortunately, black American Islamophobes, blaming it on the Muslims — who are also black — won’t change that. What the black American Islamophobe needs to realize is that the anti-Muslim bias is not a means to full citizenship. Rather, the “Muslim peril” is just the newest boogey man deployed to uphold the status quo and thereby distract our attention from demanding and making meaningful and equitable change for all Americans.

To hear more of Cain’s views: read this

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  1. Mrs Shabazz

    September 5, 2011 at 12:48 PM

    Many black people’s only exposure to Islam has been with racist Arab/Indian shop owners who tend to be very disrespectful- especially to black women. When they see non-black Muslims showing a better example of Islam, their opinions might change.

    • Resse

      September 5, 2011 at 1:40 PM

      I think thats unfair to say and a poor excuse. To judge all muslims baised on a shop owner that one might not even know is muslim. Ill use an example one day my coworker was helping a man from the middle east. not sure exactly. he was rude. btw my coworker is white female. she then comes over to me and says i cant stand indian men. they are all so rude and i how they treat their women are wrong. so i then asked her how do you know he was indian? i got no anwer. then i asked her did she talk to every women thats indian on how their husbands treat them. i think it makes people small minded to think that way because of bad experience. their are rude black people out there and i wouldnt want someone to then judge me because they met a rude black person in their past. you get what im saying. i think the problem is with people and their hate against islam is not just race. the problem is laziness. if people took time to read the Qur’an instead of just jumping to conclusions or listening to what other people say. maybe it wouldnt be an issue.

      • Resse

        September 5, 2011 at 2:08 PM

        I hate how*

      • Mrs Shabazz

        September 5, 2011 at 4:50 PM

        Peace. You judge by what you know. There are many people who have never met a black person in their life, who judge by what the media says. If you only know 1 or 2 Muslims- and they happen to be the ones who sexually harass you at the store and/or call you a slave then you tend to think that way. Right or wrong, that is the reality. Take it or leave it. Peace.

        • fatihah

          September 6, 2011 at 2:13 AM

          to each its own. my bestfriend is afghan and muslim. i met her after 9/11 never did i once judge her because of it or take the easy way out and say hey stay away from me because what the media says about your people on tv. im sorry we just will have to dissagree on this lol because i think thats a poor excuse. i guess everyone has their own way of things and mine isnt to just assume or say what i heard. i find out on my own. i heard a lot of bad things about islam but i obviously took the time to find out on my own. thats what made me revert.

        • fatihah

          September 6, 2011 at 2:23 AM

          i do understand you completely that people do think that way. but all im trying to say is…MIND BOGGLING! and a lot of other things too lol if i judged every person race or religion from what i hear in the media i wouldnt like anyone.

      • Mrs Shabazz

        September 5, 2011 at 4:51 PM

        Also, reading the Quran shows what a Muslim should be- not necessarily how they are in person. there are many good Muslims, and many bad. Utopia doesn’t change the reality in inner city America.

        • fatihah

          September 6, 2011 at 2:15 AM

          my statment i was making about the quran goes towards the article. which is that if people took the time to read the quran they would see it has nothing to do with blowing up planes(flying while muslim). murder and all the other negative press islam gets. this issue is more then just meeting nice muslims or having experiences with bad muslims. because of 9/11 like the article says people have just seem to want to just jump the i hate islam banwagon. at my job there is a huge muslim community. most of them are always kind to my coworkers yet. when this time of year comes around there are still negative comments. so meeting nice muslims really has nothing to do with it. for some people it seems easier to go with the so called popular crowd thent o stand up for what they know is unjust.

    • Simon

      September 5, 2011 at 2:35 PM

      Respect is a two way street!

    • Umm Muslima

      September 10, 2011 at 12:14 PM


      I did enjoy this article and agree with Mrs.Shabazz. I live in a city with a large Muslim population(Alhamdulillah) that is predominantly African American-probably 2/3 of the Muslims, then the other 1/3 of Muslims are a 50/50 mix of Arab and Asian.

      I see African American Muslims/Muslimahs wearing sunnah garb, brothers keeping a beard, sisters wearing hijab & niqab, trying to treat people kindly and give dawah as RasullAllah SAWS instructed. The majority of Asian & Arab brothers and sisters do not dress properly, do not keep a beard, treat people disrespectfully, often rip people off in their shops(over charging for basic items & selling out of date food) and behave like the majority of non-Muslims in this city(dressing Western, drinking, smoking, going to clubs and bars, etc.).

      When the latter type of Muslim is encountered they are generally not respected and there will be a bit of bias against them. While most Muslims in my city who behave as the former -whether Black American, Asian, or Arab- will be treated with respect. But this is just my observation.

      • Umm Sulaim

        September 10, 2011 at 1:02 PM

        And when Muslims accept Islam is not synonymous with Arab or Indian, we are half-way there.

        If Arabs and Indians are rude, whereas African-American Muslims are not, are African-American Muslims not good enough that the standard/ representation of Islam hinges on Arabs/ Indians?

        Umm Sulaim

        • Umm Muslima

          September 10, 2011 at 1:23 PM

          “If Arabs and Indians are rude, whereas African-American Muslims are not, are African American Muslims not good enough that the standard/representation of Islam hinges on Arabs/Indians?”

          I would say that the standard/representation of Islam hinges on those that practice it in whatever way they practice it. If the standard/representation from one group is vastly different standard/representation from another group then (at least where I live) the people differentiate between the 2 based on their behaviour. Fortunately/unfortunately one group does not represent the whole of Islam.

          • Umm Sulaim

            September 10, 2011 at 1:48 PM


        • Greg Abdul

          September 10, 2011 at 1:33 PM

          as salaam alaikum

          Being open about being Muslim and not being a closet Muslim is a process. Some of us Muslims do not understand America. Every hero in American history started out being an oppressed despised small group and someone in the group decided to stand up and not hide and not shrink from the unfair treatment. These people are the roots of our multicultural society today in the US. Blacks got the right to vote. Women got the right to vote. Today gays are fighting for the right to marry. All of these struggles came and come from those who are willing to stand up in the open and declare the right of what they are and their rights under the law to be what they are and they have had much success. Imagine the success of Muslims if we stand up. Allah is with us when we stand with the truth of the Quran and the Sunnah. Some of us wrongly believe that when we run from what we are, we get more respect, when the real truth is, you are getting more money to disrespect what you really are. This is the dark side of America. There was a movie called “Which way is up” starring Richard Pryor, that always sticks out in my mind on these kinds of things. We have to compromise and show ourselves as flexible Muslims, but at the same time, there have to be core principles that we let the world know we will not abandon for any price. MAS goes out of its way to be super nice as most masjid leaders do. My complaint is that everyone in America is not nice and everyone in America is not open to reason. Sometimes you have to fight. Our Prophet was the nicest most gentle man God created, but when the time came, he fought and refused to back away from the way God Commanded him. The immigrants see their kids imitating black kids and they just don’t know. Those of us who have grown up in that, the last thing we want are our kids walking around with their pants on their hips, boys with earrings and tattoos and children who pride themselves on having no manners. Those who don’t know better think they are encouraging their kids in American behavior, when in truth they are only imitating the worst of the ghetto. Such an irony from people who work so hard to be middle class and not live in the poor black neighborhoods. Anyway, the real problem is usually not on the leadership group (the board), but the wannna be shaiks who come all the time to the masjid and then end up showing their prejudice everyday. This is universal. Blacks have their ignorants who come to masjid and so do immigrants. But the point of this article is non Muslim prejudice. We have to go at our own people. Blacks Muslims should be the first to condemn prejudiced black Christians, of which Juan Williams is one. Pakistanis have to criticize their own who engage in Taliban behavior. Arabs have to criticize their own, especially the ones who try to say non Arabs or those who don’t speak Arabic are not quite Muslim. If we just look for the faults in the other groups, it will only be an unending circular firing squad…and we will accomplish nothing

          Peace and blessings be upon the messenger of Allah

  2. Umm Sulaim

    September 5, 2011 at 1:13 PM

    The anti-Muslim stance of some people who are also marginalized.

    From interactions on chat lines, I can extend that sentiment to some members of other minority groups. I agree with the author that it is partly due to the ‘join the club’ mentality.

    I read the link; Whoopy Goldberg (and Joy Behar) get my vote for walking out on that show.

    Umm Sulaim

  3. Halima

    September 5, 2011 at 3:00 PM

    Nice article. Actually makes a lot of sense-and i agree as well. It’s sisters and I always say the same. For example, when we see or hear about other minorities being racist or discriminatory to other minorities (us (Somali Muslims) (plays well in this case). We always kind of scratch our heads thinking your a minority just like us soooo what’s with the attitude???? I mean the “big white man” is always gonna see us minorities as the same and look down upon us all…so why feel the need to big yourself up? It’s a triangle of hate with every race. Sad. And for this Juan Williams dude not be able to see that is extremely sad..but at the end of the day he’s just a Fox News goony…can’t expect much else though.

  4. Ummmeriem

    September 5, 2011 at 6:17 PM

    As salaamu alaikum,
    Al hamdulillah. This was a thought provoking article. I was outraged when I saw the story about the treatment of Muslims in Tennessee, and shocked to see that the ring leader was none other than an African American man. I go about in all black (usually) and wear a veil over my face. I usually keep sunglasses to keep my blue eyes from drawing too much attention, but its not always practical to wear the shades. You would think that the people in the markets and streets had never seen a Muslim woman before. It always surprises me more when its minorities looking me up and down. I wonder if people realize that I’m a human being sometimes.
    That being said, I think that each of us can do our part on an individual basis without compromising our practice. Maybe if more Muslims acted like Muslims are supposed to act and dressed in the way that identified them as Muslims, people would realize how many of us have been living peacefully among them, and stop assuming that those of us who want to follow the Sunnah are extremists.

    • Greg Abdul

      September 6, 2011 at 7:21 AM

      as salaam alaikum

      sister you are very right! the hiding is a huge problem. How can you claim you are engaged in expanding rights for Muslims when your personal primary tactic is to make sure as you go about your daily affairs amongst non Muslims that they have no clue you are Muslim? Some of us pray five prayers at midnight, after we get home from work. I have had a brother tell me it is in hadeeth that when you work for somebody else, it’s their time, so you can’t pray then. We men pull off our kufis as we drive off the masjid parking lot and shave to make our faces like a baby’s bottom. We have “eid mela” and eid festival” on sunday and saturday (the jews and Christians’ says) four and five days after Eid, so the non Muslims won’t be offended that we take off work and take our kids out of school. All of this works against Muslims. Real progress for Muslims is there has to be the discomfort of them recognizing us, and then coming to the realization that we are here and not going to run from what we believe because of their displeasure. And I really get mad when these same shrinking hiding people, who think they are so smart for because of all their hiding, come up to me in the masjid and want to be my shaik and tell me all the fine details of Islam…I am thinking while I look at them…YOU NEED TO GO HOME AND TELL YOU WIFE TO PUT ON A HIJAB!

  5. Brother

    September 6, 2011 at 12:28 AM

    It is human nature to find patterns in things. This includes finding patterns in people who are not their “own kind”. With the lack of first-hand Muslim exposure which are positive, and they only information about Muslims coming from the media as predominantly negative, it is only natural that white or black non-Muslims judge Muslims the way they do. I’m not saying this is just, but rather human inclination. Unfortunately, this type of judgmental attitudes has fueled quite a bit of hatred.

  6. Greg Abdul

    September 6, 2011 at 7:09 AM

    as salaam alaikum,

    a famous philosopher called this behavior, “the intolerance of the slave.” most of the people in the world do not know freedom. Whites have had 400 years of blacks training them to be be decent and they still are not there. No one has been there to train the blacks. This is not really about Arab and Indian store owners in the black community. Blacks have a long history of going to extreme lengths to show white America we blacks are really American and love America. The Civil Rights movement has floundered and they have no direction at present. This leaves the black community struggling with ways to make inroads to American mainstream. The unsaid irony is that prejudice has long been a way to show yourself as more American. Many immigrants come here and instantly realize they need to treat blacks like the plague, never live near them and not over-associate with black people in order to be better accepted by whites. Blacks are not imitating immigrants. They are responding to the same American pressure that tells you to hate what you see your neighbors hating. There has always been rampant prejudice in the black community. Religious intolerance has always been huge and a central element of black identity. For blacks, you commit racial treason if you dare be anything other than a black protestant in a black crazy church (like Obama did). That thinking today runs smack dab into in increasing Muslim presence and increasing information about Islam in America. The monolithic black community, at least the religious monolith, prides itself on its rudeness and intolerance to what it perceives does not belong. This has been the big problem for the Muslim American Society. Black American Muslim leaders don’t want to openly confront the bigotry in the black community, while at the same time, they say they want to be a positive influence. Common sense says you have to fight ignorance and intolerance in your community if you really want to help people in your community. You can’t pretend like it doesn’t exist when people hate you and even more, hate their true past. But this has been the insistent tactic of MAS. Black American Muslims are the ones who most need to speak about ignorant intolerant black people. But black American Muslim leaders are muted in their criticisms in an effort to maintain some sore of racial solidarity. I am big on criticizing Louis Farrakhan, but I think that criticism is a waste of time these days and we would be better off as Muslims spending more time criticizing the black Christian bigots in America. Our silence only empowers them and whenever you see a black American convert, rest assured those very same people are giving him every bit of hurt they can in an effort to drive us converts back into the church. As Muslims, and especially black American Muslims, we should not leave any bigot unturned.

  7. Jeremiah

    September 6, 2011 at 6:29 PM

    Jazakillahu khairan Prof. Su’ad! I was having a slightly related discussion with some brothers at the eid al fitr cookout.

    Just wondering, is it fair to lump Juan Williams with Herman Cain? While Mr. Willliams’ comments were certainly misguided, I thought he was at least being honest. It seemed like a good opportunity for open dialogue that could actually lead to some progress. I thought our muslim leaders were a bit too thin skinned and somewhat tone deaf with Mr. Williams.

    Herman Cain on the other hand seems like an opportunist.

  8. AbdurRahmanX

    September 6, 2011 at 10:42 PM

    I think the brother meant:

    How can you claim you are engaged in expanding rights for Muslims when your personal primary tactic is to make sure as you go about your daily affairs amongst non Muslims that the main thing you do concerning Islam is make sure the non Muslims have no clue you are Muslim? How do you advance Muslims by hiding that you are a Muslim? How can you then go out and look Muslims in the face at the masjid and try to be a masjid-only shaik but no one can tell what in the world you are once you leave the masjid parking lot? What civil rights movement has ever been won by people hiding what they are and what they believe? You get more money for hiding and you donate more to the masjid, al hamdullilah. Now what about the rest of us actually want to go out the door with a kufi, a beard or a hijab?

    • Steve Henshaw

      September 13, 2011 at 6:54 AM

      Yes! Living according to our deen is the answer to ALL of our challenges!

  9. Olivia

    September 7, 2011 at 5:09 PM

    I find it funny that these black neo-cons pal around with white guys who probably use the word “n*****” when referring to blacks on a regular basis when there black party-members aren’t around. Perfectly put, the bandwagon looks great when you’re made to walk. Except while you’re riding everyone remembers that they did you a favor and picked you up in their car.

  10. Carlos

    September 8, 2011 at 12:19 AM

    I would venture to guess that most American Islamophobia has a lot less to do with race than it does with 9/11. 9/11 was many Americans’ introduction to Islam. What do you think your “gut feeling” about Islam would be if you were an American, and your first introduction to Islam was the 9/11 terrorist attacks?

    Islam is not a race. Therefore, Islamophobia is not racism.

    • Brother

      September 14, 2011 at 10:56 PM

      I believe that 9/11 is what legitimized the prejudices of many Americans against Muslims in their minds. You might remember that when the Oklahoma bombing happened, there were people in the media talking about Middle Eastern looking suspects when the reality was that is was White Christian men responsible for it. My feeling is that these people were disappointed that the perpetrators were not Muslim.

      Also, Muslims have been well known in the US for decades. I am assuming the Americans you mentioned whose first introduction to Islam was 9/11 must be when they were in grade school.

      Also, I agree with you that Islamophobia is not racism, but many assume others religion based on their race.

  11. Candice Elam

    September 8, 2011 at 4:41 PM

    They’re a bunch of Uncle Toms, if you ask me. The Black guy who was one of the leaders of the anti-mosque fight in Murfreesboro (profiled by CNN) struck me as someone who was just craving acceptance by the larger community. What really struck me was the idea that 50, 40, even 30 years ago, some of the people standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him against the Muslims would’ve been standing together against him for no reason other than the fact that he’s Black.
    I remember being at a lecture by Dr. Cornell West (somewhere around 2002) and he argued that Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, and anyone who could be mistakenly or accurately identified as a Muslim are the “new N*iggers.” Sounds very provocative, but what I took it to mean is that this class of people are for the first time experiencing the second-class citizenship suffered by African Americans. The profiling, glass ceilings, housing, employment, and medical discrimination, the “he must be guilty” when something bad goes down are just tidbits of that experience, and Dr. West was pointing out that people would be less shy about visiting that hostility upon Muslims. That said, I’ve heard a number of non-Muslim African-Americans express a kind of relief that there’s a new “enemy” to America. It’s been us since we got here way back in the 1600s, and we haven’t quite lost that status since. whereas other groups came, got treated badly, and eventually assimilated and became accepted in a few generations, African Americans have yet to reach assimilation and acceptance. For those of you who remember, immediately after 911, there were commercials and songs proclaiming the inclusiveness of America, boasting that no matter what you look like, where you were born, what your accent indicates about you, America welcomes and accepts you. On one hand, I can identify with that feeling of relief. Many Muslims, while deeply troubled by the massacre in Scandinavia, were glad that it wasn’t an Ahmed or a Muhammad who did it because then we’d all feel the collective need to apologize, or distance ourselves from his actions, or come up with a conspiracy theory about how “the man” entrapped him (and they still found a way to turn it around on us with this anti-multiculturalism business). On the other hand, African Americans are no less likely to be profiled or discriminated against now that there’s a new group being similarly discriminated against. It’s not like there’s a finite amount of hatred to go around and when there’s more people to hate, everyone else gets a smaller portion of it. So the position of relief really makes no sense; not for us African Americans who were glad that the criminal spotlight wasn’t on us post-911 nor for us Muslims who, when hearing of some massacre/bombing/wife beating/honor killing/or fill in the blank with any form of oppression people identify with Islam, are relieved that there were no Abdurrahmans or Mahmouds involved.
    Big digression to get to a simple point. There have always been and will always be people who will try to clutch at a position by stepping on others to get there. Our brother Malcolm X gave the beautiful analogy of the house Negro and the field Negro. Williams and Cain are thoroughbred house Negroes. We have them amongst this ummah, too. They come in the form of Muslims who will “change” Islam so that it mirrors the prevailing values of the non-Muslims.

  12. Wael Abdelgawad

    September 8, 2011 at 7:42 PM

    The restaurant sign (“BBQ pork resturant (sic) – No Muslims inside”) is shocking but also kind of funny. I wonder if any local Muslims have challenged that policy? Gone in wearing obviously Muslim clothing and ordered fries and a soda? Because if they do, and the restaurant denies them service, it’s a federal civil rights violation.

    I think that all of American society (and maybe global society) is infected with racism and it’s not so surprising that some African-Americans display such sentiments. I’ve seen this in masjids as well. I have often attended predominantly African-American masjids and have never been fully accepted. Oh I was accepted as a Muslim, but not as a friend. When the guys were going out for a bite to eat after salat, or to play basketball or whatever, not once in five years was I ever invited along.

    In prisons, where Muslims are often overwhelmingly African-American, many of them prison converts who have never been a part of diverse Muslim communities, it can be worse. White or Middle Eastern Muslims in such environments are often totally excluded socially.

    It just shows that we Muslims have a lot of work to do. A lot of education and reaching out, Insha’Allah.

    • Candice Elam

      September 9, 2011 at 9:59 PM

      It’s unfortunate that you’ve had that at predominantly African-American masajid. I totally relate to what you said about not being accepted as a friend. I’ve felt the very same thing going to Arab or South Asian masajid. Sadly, I often wonder if I’m even accepted as a Muslim. Add to that the fact that because I wasn’t born Muslim, many perceive me as not authentically Muslim or not Muslim enough. I’ve been at masajid where the sisters don’t want to pray too close to me. Literally, in the middle of the salah, I’ve had sisters inch away in the opposite direction. I’ll give them their 70 excuses. My kids are biracial, and when my first child was born, some people at the masjid said things along the lines of, “Alhamdulilah, she’s not dark. She’s really cute.” I throw in 70 excuses for them, too. While it’s never excusable to make someone feel excluded from the goings-on at the masjid, it’s nice to every now and then go to a masjid where people treat you like an equal and aren’t hung up about your color or your kid’s color. It’s nice to be in a masjid where people are speaking a common language instead of sitting at a masjid, and you know for a fact that those sisters speak English because you’ve spoken to them before with no problem, but they’ll speak in whatever other language, effectively leaving you out of the conversation. And if one more Muslim asks me if my husband is Muslim, I think I might scream (happened to me today and I just about set it off). Would they ever ask that of a Muslim from their own country?
      Ignorance is ignorance. There’s no excuse for it when it’s coming form African American converts and “their masajid” or from “born-Muslim” communities and their masajid. Nevertheless, I think the hostility or rejection you felt at African American masajid might’ve been a byproduct of our general nonacceptance at other masajid rather than the prison experience.

  13. Umm Muslima

    September 10, 2011 at 1:13 PM

    As a Muslimah living in the United States as well as in a city with a high Muslim population, I’m very aware that there needs to be clarification on the issue of “Black American Islamophobe.” If for no other reason than that it is widely assumed that Muslim = Arab or Asian.

    First there needs to be separation between whether the person who is being called an “Islamophobe” is Muslim or non-Muslim because for many Muslim = Arab or Asian. The city in which I live has a very high Muslim population the majority of which(about 2/3) are African American, with the other 1/3 being almost equally divided between Arab & Asian Muslims.

    The Black Americans in my city who are NOT Muslim, generally treat the *practicing* Muslims they see with respect. Ironically, the majority of obviously practicing Muslims is African American. The majority of Arab and Asian Muslims in my area do the “Superman” trick of putting on the hijab/kufi before entering the masjid then yank it off as soon as they exit. And that’s if they attend at all. There are also many who do not behave in a manner that is suitable meaning they behave as many ‘lose’ Americans do by dating, drinking, smoking(not just cigarettes), going to nightclubs and bars, and many also have the dubious “honor” of being known for treating women disrespectfully and ripping off customers of their stores by selling over priced items or food past its expiry date. If there is an prejudice against “Muslims” especially those that are identified as Arab or Asian in my city it is for the latter reasons. Not because of Islam or 9/11.

    Second, as for the separation of Muslim Black Americans and Arab & Asian Muslims, this may be a separate topic but it could be addressed here as well since I see people calling Black Muslim leaders to task for not speaking out in defense of their Arab and Asian Muslim brothers and sisters. I personally don’t find it to be the Black Muslim leader’s responsibility to call out the prejudice of other people of the same RACE because they are Muslim and there isn’t supposed to be any racial prejudice in Islam. According to Allah SWT we are all equal except in Taqwa. And if I’m being perfectly honest, I see much more racial, and even religious prejudice directed at African Americans coming from Arab and Asian Muslims than I have ever seen the reverse. I don’t even know if I’ve ever seen the reverse?

    Before and after 9/11 there have been multiple “city wide” Eid celebrations held at the city’s convention center to include the Muslims from ALL of the masajid in the city so that we could all come together as one. Alhamdulillah it was mostly successful except for the obvious absences of most of the Arab and Asian Muslims in the city who still wanted to have theirs separate. There were some “stragglers” from each community who decided to join in the unity Alhamdulillah! But most just stuck to their own community masjid. Immediately after 9/11 the Arab and Asian Muslim communities complained to the majority African American community about wanting support and solidarity because they were worried about being targeted. These same communities who wanted nothing to with the rest of the community now were reaching out and received support. However, they quickly let it be know that they were still “separate” and wanted nothing to do with the larger Black Muslim community as usual.

    Finally, after reading Umm Zakiyyah’s eloquent article about the experiences of prejudice against herself and other Black Muslims it’s obvious that the solution doesn’t solely rest on the shoulders of the Black Muslim and non-Muslim community to correct Islamophobia & the racial prejudice connected to it. The solution also lies on the shoulders of the Arab and Asian Muslim community to acknowledge and accept the American Muslims (Black and otherwise) as their brothers and sisters in Islam. I find it a bit naive and presumptive that Black Americans are expected to respect and accept all other minorities(whether by race, color, or religion) while said minority often shows disrespect and prejudice agains Black Americans.

    As “Simon” above me so wisely stated, “Respect is a two way street.” Once our Arab and Asian Muslim brothers and sisters are able to show respect and acceptance towards Black Americans(and especialy Black American Muslims) then hopefully, insha Allah, they will find the respect and acceptance they are seeking.

    • Umm Sulaim

      September 10, 2011 at 1:53 PM

      Wa alaykum us-Salam wR wB.

      Your points have clarified your position and answered my question upto 99%. I shall overlook the remaining 1%.

      JazakiLlah khayra. The adhan is being called; need to break my fast.

      Was-Salam alaykum,
      Umm Sulaim

      • Umm Muslima

        September 10, 2011 at 2:55 PM

        AsSalamuAlaikum wR wB;

        May Allah SWT accept your fast and your duas. Ameen.

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